Strengths and weaknesses:
- equipment levels
- interior refinement
- cargo space
- “me-too” looks
Kia heads to Rio for sub-compact sedan competitor
"Befitting the small bodystyle, cabin confines are tight but comfortable enough for four."
Let’s get this out of the way right off the top – the Kia Rio is like every other sub-compact sedan on the market. It’s roomy as every other sub-compact sedan on the market; it acts like every other sub-compact sedan on the market; it even looks like just about every other sub-compact sedan on the market. And, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Rio grew out of an amazingly unique little concept sedan unveiled before the turn of the century. When it came to production, it was monotonized for practicality. A hatchback model injected some fun into the line-up with a U.S.-badged Rio Cinco, but Canada decided to go with the more mundane Rio-XV. Regardless, the hatchback sold well, especially north of the 49th, and the sedan has continued to offer the more traditional looks for buyers who prefer the three-box design.
As with anything, the sedan bodystyle gets more sleek and so we have a new Rio for 2012 (developed in cooperation with its parent company’s Hyundai Accent, which has been the case since the second generation of 2005). So, it looks a lot like Accent (with the obvious changes in the nose to take on the Kia tabbed grille and large wrap-around headlights).
Rio also replaced previous models that briefly came to North America sporting a Kia badge, but which were most prominently used as Fords – Festiva and Aspire. In some world markets, it was sold as a Mazda 121 - the precursor to the Demio and Mazda2, which shares architecture with the Ford Fiesta. So, it bears a passing resemblance to the Fiesta sedan (especially in profile).
Of the remaining competitors, the Versa sedan is similar in profile and the Chevrolet Sonic and Toyota Yaris are totally different in all aspects.
Befitting the small bodystyle, cabin confines are tight but comfortable enough for four. Yes, there’s a third rear seatbelt; no, you shouldn’t squeeze anybody in there, no matter how small … just as in any sedan this size. The cargo hold is not only big, mostly-square and flat-floored, the opening is wide to accommodate larger packages without much muss and fuss.
The cockpit is nicely laid out and features all the current technological gadgetry, some of which are unexpected on a car in this segment (rear-view camera, touchscreen navigation system, voice activated infotainment features, six-speed automatic, etc.).
The engine is a 1.6-litre four-cylinder that makes 138 hp and 123 lb.-ft. of torque (considerably more than like-engined, and smaller engined, competitors and similar to the larger-engined one), which is probably the main advantage of Rio over its otherwise similar rivals (though it’s decidedly middle of the pack when it comes to fuel economy, despite Kia’s ECO upgrade).
The ride is choppy when the car is empty, probably due to our tester’s upgraded suspension, but it hunkers down nicely with more bodies in the cabin. The handling is akin to any family sedan – not too firm to compromise ride; not too soft to strip away driver confidence. The steering is what you’d expect from a family car – vague in the centre to prevent more drama when trying to avoid an emergency situation, predictable out at the ends to allow drivers to plot avoidance courses quickly and efficiently.
It used to be that you could count on a better features-to-price ratio, but that’s gone away, with the newest Rio priced pretty well even with its competitors. You can still get into a Rio or as little as $13,795, but you can get a Versa for $11,878 and into a Fiesta for $12,999.
Even at the top end … by the time you fully load up our test SX with a touchscreen navigation system (including rear-view camera, fully automatic climate control, cooling glove box and heated steering wheel, among others), the price nearly tops $22,000. That’s kinda steep for a sub-compact sedan.
But when you consider that $8,000 range, it means you’re bound to find one that you can outfit just right for your daily driving needs.